Opposite our classroom window lived a tall man. I used to see him
in the window, washing a plate in a bowl of water, brushing his
teeth at length in front of a small mirror which hung on the wall
near the window, combing his thick black hair, parting it neatly on
the side. Then he would put on a bow tie over his white shirt, one
that he always wore. He would take a violin, which looked very
small between his big hand and his chin, and very gently pass the
bow over the strings. He played for two hours every day, and when
we came back from the long break he was still absorbed in his
playing. When he finished, he would place the violin in its case,
pick up a small suitcase tied with a rope and leave the room. I
could not imagine where he went and what was in the suitcase. We
never saw another person in his room, not even his landlady, who
could be seen through another window in the same apartment. His
playing, or rather, his actions before he played ¬eating from
the one plate, washing it, standing in front of the small mirror,
the careful tying of the bow tie - were all mysterious to me. The
music he drew from his violin was unlike any I had ever heard,
since in those days nobody in our neighborhood had a radio.
"Do you know what he is playing?"
Adon Artzi's direct question alarmed me, though he was the least
alarming of the teachers.
"No," I said, "I was just listening."
Adon Artzi, who was childless, was unlike the other teachers. He
did not wear a hat but a big brown beret which he pulled down over
his right ear. He usually wore khaki wool trousers with a sharp
crease and very wide belt loops which looked military, though 1
never figured out what possible military use could be made of them.
He had recently been discharged from the Jewish Brigade and had
been in Europe. During geography lessons he tried to discuss things
which were not in the textbook. He also gave us free recorder
lessons after school. It was said that he was a yekke from Germany,
and that all the yekkes liked to play music. He did not scold me
for being absorbed in that man in the window.
"He is playing Mozart," he said. "He was a great artist in Germany.
He played in the Berlin orchestra until he fled from the evil
Hitler. He has no family left."
"What's an orchestra?" asked Eliahu Mizrahi, who was not afraid of
Artzi opened his blue eyes, which looked huge and angry through his
glasses. He turned his back to the class, glanced at the man in the
window, put the chalk beside the blackboard and stood still. We
sensed a connection between his silence and his glance at that man,
and did not utter a word.
The silence was an alliance between the pupils and Adon Artzi, and
between us and the man in the window.
The teacher turned back to us, took off his spectacles and wiped
them with a handkerchief.
"Next week there will be a parade of the British army to mark the
anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany," he said.
I heard the sounds of the parade from afar. When 1 got as far as
the German Hospital at the intersection of Chancellor and Nevi'im
streets, 1 broke into a run, and a moment later 1 was in Jaffa Road
which was blocked with people crowding the pavement. The sounds
came closer. Trumpets, drums, a yearning wail of bagpipes, like
those of the Scottish soldiers 1 used to see in the Schneller wood
near our neighborhood. The wailing of the bagpipes swirled in the
heavy heat which hung over the crowd, and continued when the other
instruments broke off now and then. It sounded as though there was
a cheerful competition going on somewhere far off between unseen
groups of musicians. 1 tried to push through the massed crowd or to
find a spot where they would not block my view, but did not
The parade was approaching. The band was really close, and 1 was
going to miss it all.
Then I saw the concrete and iron skeleton of a columned building
which was under construction. It had a flat roof. Could I climb up
and reach it? Between its raw columns I saw a passage to the plot
at the back of the building. Near a heap of rubbish beside the back
door of the Tarablous restaurant I saw a tall mound of gravel. I
climbed to its top, stretched out a hand and a moment later I was
the solitary monarch of the broad tarred roof. My throat was thick
with the solemnity of the throng, the flags and the sounds. Down
below in the street the British army band came to a halt. The
musicians wore safari jackets with high stiff collars to which were
attached metal numbers, each player his own serial number. The
band-leader faced them, holding a long baton with a gleaming metal
tip. I did not understand how they both could carry their heavy
instruments and keep playing in the intense heat.
Golden cymbals clashed together, beating the air and spreading
waves of heat. The band moved on. Red-faced English soldiers swung
their arms and the pounding of their hobnailed boots could be heard
through the band music. I saw that one of them had a razor cut on
his pimply cheek. Did these soldiers defeat the Germans? I recalled
the picture of Churchill and his thick cigar which I had seen in a
newspaper in Baruch, the barber's shop, when he was explaining to
the neighborhood mukhtar what Churchill meant by the V sign he made
with his fingers. From a distance the cymbals still flashed like a
pair of huge mirrors in which the surrounding faces were reflected
I sat down and raised my knees to my face.
The skirts worn by the Scottish musicians seemed to me perfectly
commonplace. Did the Scots also fight? With those musical
Suddenly a roar shook the air. An enormous elephant approached,
ridden by an Indian soldier wearing a khaki turban, and then
another elephant. They were followed by brown-faced Indian soldiers
marching in threes, all turbaned and bearing rifles with bayonets.
When the elephants' vast backsides had passed by like a dream, a
silence fell, disturbed only by the pounding of hobnailed boots,
insistent and rhythmical. The red keffiyehs of the soldiers of the
Arab Legion spread like a blush in the military carpet as it moved
down the road. Then came the sound of large paws, like a wet cloth
slapping against a wall, and a camel's hump passed by like a wave
surmounted by a Legionnaire, reminding me of the Yemenite lifeguard
perched on his surfboard at the seaside in Tel Aviv. Wrapped in his
red keffiyeh, the Legionnaire sat atop the hump, his left leg
folded and his right hanging down, clinging to the camel's belly.
He wore a bandolier of bullets diagonally on his chest, and held
his rifle loosely across his knees. He moved forward with the
wavelike rhythm of the camel's motion. For a moment his head was at
the level of mine across the width of the pavement. As if sensing
my eyes on him, he turned and flashed a pair of green lightning
bolts at me. His eyes were very bright in his dark face. His mouth
was hidden by the keffiyeh, but on his cheek was an olive-sized
mole, a paler brown than his face.
When our glances met, his face livened and he winked at me and
showed his white teeth. "Mine heart shall sound like pipes," I
quoted to myself, while he already passed on. The Legionnaires
frightened me with the intense power they radiated. The Indian
elephants, which reminded me of pictures from the film about the
elephant boy, confused me, and I failed to understand what part
they had played in the victory over the Germans.
I searched for a glimpse of the Legionnaire on the camel, but he
had vanished down King George Street. Suddenly I spotted the head
of the violin-playing man from the window. He was on the pavement
below. He walked along the human wall with its back to him. His
suitcase hung from the rope around his neck, opened like a tray in
front, filled with toothbrushes, razor blades, soaps. He held its
lid open with one hand. "Soaps, razor blades, brushes, extra,
please!" he pleaded in a fragile voice. No one paid him any
attention. His suitcase bumped accidentally against a man who
turned around and shouted something. His pathetic appearance
drained away my excitement over the parade, and I climbed down from
"No," I said to myself. "It isn't possible that he was a great
artist in the Berlin orchestra."
I don't remember how long it was after that day that my relatives
from Tel Aviv came to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their son
Shimeon in the Holy City. They felt strongly about holding it at
the synagogue of the forced converts of Mashhad, which stood in our
courtyard. The synagogue stood on the highest of three linked
courtyards - the poorest was the lowermost courtyard, where we
lived, the better off lived on the middle level, and on the
uppermost level rose the synagogue with its many windows which
gazed down on the rest of us. I never understood what had happened
to those quiet people, and what made them different from the rest
of the Persian Jews. I was always vaguely pleased by the slight,
secretive, affectionate nod of the Bokharan men when I answered
their question to which synagogue I belonged.
Shimeon had his Torah ceremony on Saturday, and a day or two later
the Jewish underground blew up the King David Hotel. I spent the
days of the curfew quite happily in the company of this older Tel
Avivian companion whom circumstances had provided for me. I fed him
stories about underground heroes who hid nearby, and about the
pistol which a fleeing Etzel man had dropped, which I found and
secreted in a cave, and later gave to Sasson, the widow's son who
worked in a forge, and whom I believed to belong to the Etzel, on
account of the blue overalls he wore.
(It later transpired that I had guessed right. One night when the
alarm sounded, Sasson crept home to the courtyard, wounded. A few
moments later the British arrived and dragged him out by force,
ignoring his mother who wept and clutched the officer's leg and
fainted. They took him to the Russian Compound and later deported
him to Eritrea. His mother gave me the stamps from his letters,
which I read to her because she could not.)
"Come on," said Shimeon, "let's go to the King David. Do you know
where it is?"
Having won the respect of the neighborhood children by my
friendship with a bar mitzvah-age boy, moreover a Tel Avivian, I
could not admit that I did not know where the King David Hotel was.
I nodded and asked him not to tell the grownups where we were
"We want to buy Volga ice-cream," I said to my mother. "Or maybe
Allenby ice-cream. So don't worry if we're late."
My mother and Shimeon's mother were sitting in the courtyard. They
were content to be rid of us, and only said we were not to wander
When my sister heard this, she jumped up and wanted to join us. It
rather spoiled the adventure of visiting the ruins of the King
David, but we agreed to take her along so as not to arouse
suspicion. I was secretly proud to be seen with a bare-headed Tel
Aviv boy, and I deliberately went in a roundabout way. I knew that
the British government buildings were clustered not far from Yemin
Moshe, and I had an idea where that was. I used to see the sails of
the Yemin Moshe windmill from the bus on which I traveled with my
grandmother who always took her grandchildren with her on her fast
days to visit Rachel's Tomb. The windmill was her sign to start
weeping. She was sure that Yemin Moshe was named after the Biblical
Moses, and she would mumble and sob, naming the four Matriarchs,
until the bus stopped at Rachel's Tomb.
I was afraid to proceed to Princess Mary Street, which swarmed with
Arab bully-boys, especially near the Rex Cinema, so I led the way
to King George Street. An Arab policeman directed the traffic at
the intersection of King George and Jaffa Road. He stood under his
little canopy in the crossroad and waited for approaching vehicles.
As soon as he spotted a car or a motorcycle heading his way, he
straightened up and waited tensely until he could signal with his
white gloves to stop or to drive on. In the window of the Yampolsky
Pharmacy hung a sign, "Jew, speak Hebrew and you will be healed!"
Underneath were lines in other languages. Perhaps if each nation
spoke in its own language everyone would be well and need no
Some days later I put this advice to good use. My friend Shmuel
Levy, who lived in the low courtyard near me, fell ill and nothing
seemed to help. "Stop speaking Persian with your parents," I
whispered to him, and told him about the medical advice of Dr.
Yampolsky the chemist.
I pretended to know the way perfectly and led the way towards the
buildings of the Jewish Agency. From here on we found ourselves in
a strange area in which few people walked, either Arabs or Jews. On
the left stood an unfinished building under which gaped a large
water cistern with limed walls. I was tempted to pronounce it the
ruins of the King David Hotel, but pulled myself together at the
sight of the YMCA tower which rose before us. Further down, near
the turning of Mamillah Street, there was a cactus hedge, and
beyond it stood a knot of British soldiers. They were a sign that
we were nearing the area of the British government and the King
A group of schoolgirls in gray uniforms emerged walking in pairs
from a convent gate led by two old women. In the middle of a great
white courtyard stood a round building which had over its entrance
a stone relief of a woman holding a baby. She wore a crown shaped
like a garland of stars and a large string of beads hung from her
fingers. High above her rose an enormous cross.
The girls were singing in low voices, and Shimeon declared that
they were French. I thought that they were Arab. There was
something sad about their singing. Just so did the children of the
Blumenthal Orphanage sing, when I saw them marching in line behind
their supervisor up Yehezkel Street, to recite the Psalms to
bereaved families. From the Moslem cemetery on our left came the
chirring of a cricket. We continued to walk down the hill. I
remembered seeing in Seri's grocery a picture in a magazine from
which he tore pages to wrap the pickled fish from the barrel, a
picture of a beautiful flower which lured flies and insects into
its open maw and then closed it upon them.
All at once, without saying a word, the three of us had become
partners in a grave matter which might end badly.
My sister took hold of my hand and I made no objection.
Beyond the tall trees which cast shadows on the tombstones, a
building suddenly appeared out of the parched air, looking like the
palace of Haroun al-Rashid in the tales of A Thousand and One
Nights. Four stories of rosy stone, all arches and windows which
started big and became smaller on the upper floors, six-pointed
stars, tassels and flowers carved in stone, horseshoe arches,
stained glass in the vast windows of the ground floor ... Over the
entrance archway the sign was carved in large English letters, each
letter on a separate stone - Palace Hotel. High above it an Arabic
inscription was engraved in elaborate curlicues.
While we three stood goggling at the sight, suddenly there were
sharp whistle blasts, then much shouting, and a stream of
important-looking men and women rushed out of the building, as if
fleeing from a fire inside. A military lorry stopped beside us and
out of it jumped soldiers who quickly surrounded the building while
facing the street.
"These are Legionnaires," said Shimeon. "I recognize them from the
Album of the Armies of the World."
They did indeed look like the Legionnaires 1 had seen in the
victory parade, only this time they were not wearing Keffiyehs.
They wore stiff, peaked caps with a little metal tip on top, which
looked like tiny bayonets. They were as nimble as cats and quickly
carried out their commander's orders. He stood with his back to us
and gave orders in Arabic. At the same time he stepped backwards,
step after step, until he bumped into me.
He turned his head and fired two green arrows from his dark face,
which had an olive-sized mole on its cheek. Our eyes met for a
"Yallah, itla', itla'!" he shouted at us. For a moment we stood
Behind us was the cemetery and in front were the Legionnaires, all
in readiness for whatever threatened the beautiful building. We
forgot the bombed King David Hotel, and 1 thanked heaven for saving
me from that awkwardness. We turned around and went home
After that summer 1 went up to the sixth grade. We moved to a
different classroom and 1 never saw the violin-player in the window
1 often stared at his window during the breaks, but he was not
there. One of the boys said he had been seen selling condoms to
British soldiers in the Europa Cafe. Then 1 discovered that Cohen's
restaurant opposite the school had a radio, and 1 made a habit of
stopping outside after school to listen to the Voice of Jerusalem.
Now and then 1 heard music which reminded me of the playing of the
man in the window, but he had disappeared.
Sometimes in the long afternoons we went into the wheatfields of
the Arabs behind Shmuel Hanavi Street, between the police academy,
which we called "the white house," and the first houses of Sheikh
Jarah, near the Hapoel playing field and the local zoo. But before
we could pluck a handful of ripe ears, an unseen fellah would yell
at us, "Yallah, ya walad, itla' min zara'ah!" 1 always ran away.
Who was the man who shouted, and what did it/a' mean?
Came days when no one went into the fields beyond Shmuel Hanavi
The Arab shepherds stopped coming with their flocks to sell milk.
The noisy groups of fellahin who used to herald the dawn when they
emerged from the night on the path from the hills of Shuafat, also
One day 1 saw Yoske's mother wearing a black dress and a black
kerchief on her head. She was walking to the market, talking to
herself, and her eyes were red and puffy. A small pathetic figure.
I had seen Yoske a few days earlier, dressed in military uniform,
riding an armor vehicle of the Guard Corps, holding a submachine
gun with a dangling belt of cartridges. Someone said they were on
their way to Gush Etzion. One day very early in the morning, before
the shamash of the synagogue called the men to dawn prayer, a
mighty explosion rattled the windows. A bunch of us walked to
school together and we saw other groups walking ahead of us. Above
our heads flew flocks of birds. It looked as if they had banded
together for the same reason whose odor hung in the air. In the
school-yard people talked about Ben- Yehudah Street. I left my
satchel in the classroom and ran there together with Eliyahu
Mizrahi who feared nobody. I did not recognize the place. The shape
of the street had changed, and reminded me of the mouth of Shmuel
Levi's father which collapsed every evening when he took out his
false teeth and put them in a glass. When we arrived, there were
already hundreds of people there busy removing the dead and the
wounded from the rubble. They worked quietly as if they had been at
this task for a long time.
It was cold and smoke hung in the air. We stopped beside a woman
who was smoking nervously, holding a small boy by the hand. I
wanted to ask her if she had come out of the ruins, but I did not
And then I saw him. His hair was disheveled, he was barefoot,
dressed in a pyjama top and long underpants. His head was tilted
sideways, as it did when he played the violin. Blood flowed from
his neck on the tilted side.
One night before the eve of Yom Kippur, Hakham Pinhas, the butcher,
hung a hurricane lamp on a fence and proceeded to slaughter
cockerels for kapparot. He would pass the knife with one smooth
movement and fling the cockerel down on the ground. The birds
writhed a little in the circle of light from the lamp. We clustered
nearby and watched the cockerels die and tried to guess which of
them would last longest. When he slaughtered my cockerel its
drooping comb looked scarlet in the lamplight. The bird was flung
down but fell on its feet. The blood made its slit throat stick,
and it ran out of the circle of light until it fell down.
The man from the window held his violin case close to his belly, as
if someone might try to take it away from him. He rose from the
rubble and walked up the street towards King George Street. I could
not follow him because my way was barred by a row of people with
white ribbons on their sleeves. I saw him from afar sitting down in
the road and then lying on his back, and then people surrounded
There followed days of war and siege. The fields of wheat and games
beyond Shmuel Hanavi Street became minefields. At night we heard
the roars of the hungry lion in the zoo, and when they stopped, we
assumed that he had been transferred elsewhere. We heard that the
Arab Legion had advanced and reached the Ungarn Courtyards in Meah
She'arim. Zevulun Yadgar came home for a two-hour leave one day. He
held a sten gun with a clip of cartridges and he showed me how it
is loaded, cocked and fired. He promised his sister Miriam that the
next time he would bring her a lot of shells.
"Tell me, Zevulun, the Legionnaires - do they wear red keffiyehs or
hats with an iron point?"
"Steel helmets," replied Zevulun.
I visualized the quick, lithe Legionnaires whom I had seen swarming
around the beautiful building with its English and Arabic signs,
and the green eyes of their commander who had ridden the camel in
the parade. I imagined them running along the empty Shmuel Hanavi
The oppressive summer's heat drove us out into the courtyard. Two
men in uniforms stopped and asked where the Yadgar family lived.
They went in and a moment later a dreadful cry rose: "Zevulun!" The
Saturday after the armistice I went to look at the border posts
near the Mandelbaum Gate, meaning on my way to look in on the
football field and the zoo. Along Shmuel Hanavi stood the big
concrete cones which had stopped the Legion's tanks. Beyond the
boundary stood a two-story Arab house. The second-story parapet was
raised with two rows of sandbags. A Legionnaire in a red keffiyeh
sat on them, his back resting against the wall, his left leg folded
before him and the right hanging down, while he drank from a small
glass. Someone must have called to him from inside because he
turned his head and spoke. I saw that he had an olive-sized mole on
his cheek. Then he noticed me too, and showed two rows of white
teeth, and said something to the person inside, without taking his
eyes off me. I turned back and started to walk home, convinced that
he was still watching me. I marched rhythmically, as if on parade.
Some Israeli soldiers were kicking around a football on the road. A
concrete cone at one end and a stone at the other marked the goals.
The ball flew and landed at my feet. "Hey, boy, let's see you
I was sure that the Legionnaire was still observing me from the
height of the second story. I stopped the ball and with a perfect
kick sent it flying past the soldier at the far end into the
mine-field. Then I resumed marching as if on a victory
From one of the Israeli army posts came the radio sound of violin
Translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan
The story was first published in Akhshav, a literary magazine, in